reality tv

Schapelle Corby's dad died while she was in prison. Her grief triggered psychosis.

On May 28, 2017, Schapelle Corby arrived back on Australian soil after spending almost a decade in Bali’s Kerobokan Prison.

Over 12 years prior in 2005, the Queensland woman was convicted of smuggling 4.2kg of cannabis into Bali in her bodyboard bag.

From the moment she was charged with importing cannabis, imprisoned and ordered to stand trial, the case of Schapelle Corby quickly became Australia’s national fixation. 

And even today, 15 years on from Corby’s sentencing, the case continues to divide Australians. 

Schapelle Corby speaks to Kyle and Jackie O upon her return to Australia in 2017. Post continues after video.


What did Schapelle Corby do?

Schapelle Corby first made headlines in October 2004 when she was caught carrying 4.2kg of cannabis at Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai Airport after flying from Brisbane to Bali with her brother and two friends.

At the time of her arrest, Corby denied putting the cannabis wrapped in a double plastic vacuum-sealed bag in her unlocked bodyboard bag. She also claimed that she had no knowledge of the drugs until the bag was opened by customs officials.

“I just saw plastic and thought, ‘This isn’t supposed to be here. I didn’t put it there’,” the then-27-year-old told reporters.

“I shouldn’t be here. So I’m just trying to be strong and I’m just lucky that I’ve got a really good family and friends to help me get through.”

After being imprisoned and ordered to stand trial over the importation of the drugs, Corby’s trial first began in January 2005.

From the moment it started, every single move Corby and her family made was covered by the Australian media, as the public became more and more fascinated with the case.

The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss Australia’s ongoing fascination with women in prison. Post continues after podcast.

Although the defence claimed that the drugs had been planted in Corby’s luggage by a criminal syndicate of baggage handlers, the panel of judges presiding over the case soon determined that the evidence simply didn’t stack up and by May 2005, Corby was sentenced.

ADVERTISEMENT

Standing before the judges, Corby broke down in tears as she was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The verdict was broadcast nationwide and viewed by thousands of Australians. Just hours after the news was shared, then Prime Minister John Howard expressed his sorrow, telling media: “If she is guilty I feel for her, that a tragic mistake and tragic act has done so much damage to her young life. If she is innocent, my feelings for her are redoubled.”

During her time in prison, Corby was hospitalised twice for mental health issues.

“Mental illness is real and there were a lot of people who accused me of faking it – you can’t fake that,” Corby told The Sunday Telegraph in 2019.

“It’s so amazing that I’m actually here. I did not think I would actually be able to leave – like I would die in there,” she added.

“I’m still adjusting two years later.”

In the years after her conviction, Corby and her family maintained her innocence and launched a number of appeals.

In April 2012, then Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono granted Corby clemency due to mental illness, cutting five years off her prison term.

On SAS Australia, Corby was interrogated by ex-Special Forces soldiers during the real SAS training simulation, where she shared to extent of her mental health struggles in prison.

"I started to have mental illness really bad in 2008. I lived with those demons for four years," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT

"My dad died in January 2008. He used to visit me a lot. I didn't think that he would die. I didn't understand that would the last time I'd see him. We had been appealing and appealing and then the final appeal came back denied so it was those things that I couldn't get my head around.

"Mid-2008 I started losing my mind. I started hallucinating. I couldn't eat. I don't eat meat anymore, because my hallucinations were so vivid that I thought I was eating my dad's human flesh."

She said the visions and hallucinations prevented her from reading, which had been a "saviour" for her beforehand.

 




View this post on Instagram


 

Been a rough-trot. Better now. ???? #turbulent #10yearchallenge #????

A post shared by  Schapellecorby (@schapelle.corby) on

In February 2014, Corby was granted parole. Under the conditions, she had to report to the Bali Corrections Board once a month, meaning she had to stay in the home of her brother-in-law at the time, Wayan Widyartha, who had been married to Corby’s sister Mercedes.

What does Schapelle Corby’s life look like now?

In May 2017, over a decade on from her arrest, Schapelle Corby returned to Australia. Now, three years on from her return home, the 43-year-old resides on Queensland's Gold Coast.

She is currently appearing on Channel 7's new reality television show SAS Australia, alongside the likes of Nick 'Honey Badger' Cummins and Candice Warner.

Called SAS Australia, the show is based on a UK format where contestants undertake physical and psychological tests similar to the Special Air Service experience.

ADVERTISEMENT

Speaking to 7News, Corby said: "We go into the SAS as a number, not a name, which is significant for me because I won’t be Schapelle Corby, I will just be a human being.

"I wanna stop being institutionalised. I want to open my freedom to a happier life, a more fulfilling life."

Schapelle Corby is on a new reality show. Image: Channel Seven.

She continued: "I don’t want to prove myself to anybody," she explained. "This is for me. I don’t care what people think of me. I hope people enjoy it, but this is for me.

"I think I’ll discover that I’m stronger than I am, that I think I am."

The former Special Forces reaction to her mental health admission show this may have already happened after just one episode.

"Your determination and grit is bigger and better than having big muscles and being at the front," chief instructor Ant Middleton said.





View this post on Instagram









Happy Birthday to me 43! 2020 🤗💙

A post shared by  Schapellecorby (@schapelle.corby) on

ADVERTISEMENT

In an interview with Woman’s Day in 2018, Corby said she spends her time (when she is not jumping out of helicopters on TV) reading and swimming at home in their pool or at her local beach. 

“I just live day by day,” she said.

“I’m just happy to be alive. I’m going to cry… I’m just so happy to be alive.”

Corby is still dating Ben Panangian, who she first met in 2006 at a church service in prison. Panagian was also serving time for drug-related offences.

ADVERTISEMENT

In November 2019, Corby hinted the couple were engaged when she shared images of herself wearing a diamond ring on her ring finger.

She has never confirmed whether Panangian had proposed, but responded to a comment at the time pointing out she was wearing a beautiful ring.

“I think so too,” she said.

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph last year, Corby opened up about her relationship with her boyfriend of 13 years.

"I'm very lucky to have found Ben in such dismal circumstances," she told the publication in an exclusive interview.

"He's been in my life before mental illness, so he knows what I was like beforehand, he knew me during and he knows me now and he still apparently loves me and I believe he really does love me."

As Corby hasn't yet returned to Bali, the pair were meeting up overseas for holidays, however the COVID-19 pandemic has put that on hold. 

Corby also told the publication she hopes to have children - "twins if possible" - in the future, though told Stellar she was aware her prison time could have robbed her of the opportunity.

"There are no children," she said.

"I do have motherly instincts, but they are aimed towards my dog Princess. My boyfriend lives in another country, so I am not sexy or anything."

ADVERTISEMENT

"I don’t put too much emphasis on thinking about what I’ve lost.

"If it’s possible for me to have a child, OK, but I’m not going to dwell too much because there’s nothing I can change about that. But I could be still young enough."

 




View this post on Instagram


 

He is my Four Leaf clover ; hard to find & lucky to have ???? Tag Your Four Leaf Clover ????

A post shared by  Schapellecorby (@schapelle.corby) on

Since returning to Australia, Corby has garnered a strong social media following, with 166,000 followers on Instagram. 

There, she often posts pictures with her family and friends. 




View this post on Instagram


 

Everyone likes a Pelican ???? Australia ???? #stormgirl

A post shared by  Schapellecorby (@schapelle.corby) on

ADVERTISEMENT

Earlier this year she also made her debut in a rap video for the song 'Who You Know' by James Kisina. In the video, Corby plays a therapist to a troubled rapper. 

As for working, Corby told The Sunday Telegraph last year that the constant presence of the paparazzi in her life means finding a job is difficult.

"I can't go and work in a shop – it just causes havoc," she said.

"There's no way."

This article was originally published on November 29, 2019, and was updated on October 20, 2020. 

Feature image: Getty Images/ Channel Seven.

Want more Mamamia stories? Sign up to our newsletters and get our best stories straight into your inbox.

00:00 / ???